Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Nostalgic Sublime: Eric Zimmerman at Art Palace

Robert Boyd

Before blogs there were zines. Before the iPod, there were mix-tapes. It's always struck me as weird that some of the signature aspects of the internet were anticipated in the years before the internet took over. In 1963, Xerox introduced the first desk-top photocopier. The first commercial cassette tape was introduced a year later. These two analog technology breakthroughs enabled new grassroots subcultures to emerge, stealthily, right at the moment when intellectuals were fretting over the loss of regional cultures to the unstoppable bulldozer of capitalist mass culture. Of course, zines predate 1963, and the underground trade in non-mainstream musics has been going on since the introduction of the 78 RPM record. But the cassette and the photocopier made this kind of thing much easier.

This is not only important as a part of our culture, it's personally important to me. I produced my first zines in 1976 (after having read a zine by some older kids at my school), and started making mixtapes almost as soon as I had a stereo to make them on. (I even made 8-track tape mixtapes because my first car had an 8-track player instead of a cassette player.)

My first zine, Superghost #1, predates Eric Zimmerman's birth by three years. By the time he reached adulthood, the great flowering of zines had ended (the golden age of zines could be defined as the period when Factsheet 5 was being published, 1982-1998). The death of the mixtape might be said to coincide with the founding of Napster in 1999. Zimmerman is a product of the internet age.


Eric Zimmerman, Endless (Disharmony), graphite on paper, 26 1/4" x 38 3/4"

So the show, Endless Disharmony & Telltale Ashes at Art Palace is for him an examination of the recent past, a period he partially lived through but probably didn't participate in in any meaningful way because he was too young. Endless (Disharmony) depicts a particular type of cassette tape. Instead of a tape with two distinct ends (which was typical), this one is a tape loop that would only hold a small amount of sound. (This kind of contraption became obsolete with the introduction of auto-reverse tape recorders, which turned all cassettes into endless tapeloops.)

What first intrigued me is that Zimmerman drew this. Aside from exhibiting his bravura drawing skills, what would his reason be for drawing a opened cassette instead of just photographing it? The process of drawing it in such a realistic, detailed way must have been painstaking. It seems tedious. ut perhaps it makes sense to employ such a method when depicting an obsolete object. The time he took creating it honors the cassette tape.

Eric Zimmerman, Endless (Horizon), graphite on paper, 26 1/4" x 39"

Endlessness is a theme running through the work here. How can a horizon be endless? It can't--by definition horizons are where the vidible part of the land ends and turns to sky. No horizon suggest no land--a void. Perhaps a void with the word "endless" superimposed.


Eric Zimmerman, Oblivion, zine, edition of 500, 8 1/2" x 5 1/2"

Zimmerman's zine Oblivion (hilariously described as a limited edition of 500--far higher than the average print run of the average zine) is a zine in the classic format--photocopied on 8 1/2 x 11 inch pages, folded, and saddle-stitched. The seeming randomness of the contents reflects a lot of zines. It has a highly idiosyncratic glossary. It has pages and illustrations that have to do with mountains and mountain-climbing but other photos that seem to have nothing to do with the rest.

The work doesn't easily open itself up to the viewer. My interpretation, that it deals with a kind of nostalgia for pre-digital era, is inherently flawed. I'm seeing the work through a personal lens. In the other zine in the show, Telltales Ashes, Zimmerman writes a rambling, disconnected essay. One sentence stands out for me: "Here we are looking for the modern sublime--nostalgia for something lost or not yet obtained--wandering through territory along a trajectory in a transitory state."

The sublime is a key. But I disagree that it is modern. The modern sublime would leave the word "ENDLESS" out of the picture. It would be just be the pitch black drawing. The void.  Adding a word--especially one so redundant and yet contradictory--makes this a postmodern exploration of the sublime. Zimmerman's use of such postmodern media as the zine and the mixtape (which he simulates with an iPod in the piece Grid - Old Coyote Calls - Void) place his search for the sublime purely in the realm of nostalgia and history. This work doesn't pretend to achieve some kind of ultimate state. Instead, it looks backwards and forwards at the same time.

Zimmerman's nostalgic quest for the sublime is visually best expressed in a series of collages called Fields. The images are formed from cut up photos from nature magazines. Zimmerman uses these fragments to create images of forest deeps, caves, chaotic vortices, etc.


Eric Zimmerman, Field No. 13, 2012, collage on paper, 8" x 7 1/2"


Eric Zimmerman, Field No. 1, 2012, collage on paper, 8" x 7 1/2"

And looking at these, one can't help but think of Casper David Freidrich, an early artistic seeker after the sublime in the Kantian sense. But unlike such contemporary seekers as, say, James Turrell or Olafur Eliasson, Zimmerman's quest for the sublime is without hope. He is too arch and ironic. He can't permit himself to be a "pure" seeker of the absolute. He knows how the magic is done. The work is a quest for the sublime and is about a quest for the sublime. This latter part undermines the former. But the work is more intelligent for containing this contradiction.



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